SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County leaders are running a two-day, full-scale medically enhanced shelter exercise to prepare the public in the event of a severe storm or hurricane.
The event, which kicked off at 1 p.m. Wednesday, aims to explain “the intricacies of shelter set up, the potential need to close schools in advance of a storm versus directly upon storm conditions being experienced, and what to expect at a Medically Enhanced Shelter,” county emergency officials said in a news release.
Seminole County Emergency Management, Seminole County Public Schools and Florida Department of Health in Seminole County are conducting the two-day exercise in the Highlands Elementary School cafeteria.
Even though it’s just a drill, emergency manager Alan Harris said they’re making it as real as possible.
“Just like we would normally. We would close down schools, prep the school for the next day when we started to intake patients,” Harris said.
Harris said they shut down schools before a storm hits because it can take up to five hours to set up each of the county’s three medically enhanced, formerly called special needs, shelters. It then takes up to eight hours to transport patients to the facilities.
According to county officials, unlike regular emergency shelters, medically enhanced shelters feature redundant power capability for medical equipment, alongside county health department nurses and medical staff.
Harris added that Seminole County is one of a few counties in the state with enhanced medical shelters, which means they can offer more acute care to people with critical needs.
“We take patients with vents, (tracheostomy tubes), things like that, whereas a regular special needs shelter would just be machines, oxygen, those types of things,” he said.
Sarah Write, the executive community health nursing director for FDOH-Seminole, said for many people who come to an enhanced medical shelter during a storm, it could mean the difference between life and death — especially during a power outage.
“We have all of the devices and equipment that clients need to sustain so that in the event that anything happens, the continuity of care — we continue with that,” Wright said.
During a storm, complex medical care facilities or group homes can use these shelters.
Individuals may also register to use these shelters and should consider using them if:
- They depend on a medical device requiring electricity
- They have a respiratory condition requiring special equipment like monitors or oxygen
- They receive regular care from a home health care service
- They have other specific medical needs
To register for a medically enhanced shelter, those interested can visit PrepareSeminole.org or call 407-665-5102. County officials encourage individuals to pre-register.
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